Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Points of Comparison

I was caught a little off guard when one of my actors compared Merry Devil to Twelfth Night yesterday. When seeking a play that is canonically ascribed to the hand of Shakespeare as a point of comparison, Merry Wives comes more to mind than Twelfth Night. The Merry Wives connection was clearly not lost on Arthur Johnson, who also had Merry Wives printed for his book stall at St. Paul's, but my actor does have a point: Twelfth Night is also a play about love and disguise, and Twelfth Night is also highly prosaic. Indeed, Smug bears a passing resemblance to Andrew Aguecheek, and perhaps Sir John is more similar to Sir Toby than Sir John Falstaff. I don't offer this as an argument for the quality or the authorship of any of the aforementioned plays, but in one of the lesser known works of The King's Men, it's fun to compare these roles to try to figure out where sharers may have cast themselves. 

The second part of my actor's comment was at the number of times in the period that a character will put on the disguise of a nun or a friar, as the Duke/Friar Lodowick in Measure for Measure (which was written about the same time as Merry Devil probably was). That's easy. Everyone kind of looks the same in the habit of a holy (wo)man, and a simple hooded robe, which will suffice for most early-modern nun and friar roles, is generally easy to put on, and can easily completely obscure another costume worn underneath. In just about every way you could want, it's the perfect disguise. 

And, of course, since the Catholics were kicked out by Henry VIII in the 1530s, and the Monasteries dissolved and their valuable land appropriated by the crown, Nuns and Friars are always a safe target of satire,

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